Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” ~Herman Hesse
Do you view the world through the sunny optimism of rose-colored lenses or is the tint of your worldview darker and more gloomy? One’s view of the world has a lot to do with the internal script created by one’s unconscious mind. You are both the author, and projectionist of the psyche’s creation. There is truth to be found in the expression “The eyes are the window of the soul” in that the eyes project and see one’s darkest secrets.
Conceptualized by Sigmund Freud, psychological projection is when a person sees behavior or personality traits in others that in fact are traits that belong to them. Thoughts, desires and feelings that one cannot accept are externalized and attributed to another person. Thus, what the ego rejects (one’s internal view) is placed externally on another person. The world essentially becomes a mirror reflecting back what is in our unconscious. We, therefore, see in others the darkness or the light of our souls. By projecting our internalized negative scripts and negative core beliefs we can shift the blame for our problems onto others, affecting our perception of the world.
Further, Carl Jung believed we all possess a shadow side that serves as a reservoir for all of our human darkness. All that we reject in ourselves and deem unacceptable becomes part of the shadow. We create and invest ourselves into an idea of who we are as individuals. Anything that is inconsistent with this persona is suppressed and put in the inner well that contains our darkest emotions. Jung felt that these unacceptable parts in ourselves likely gave rise to projection both on an individual level and on a larger national or international level.
Psychological projection is often associated with negative behavior but it applies equally to positive internal scripts that we have. For example, someone with a high level of self-esteem and self-love may project that others are saying positive things about them and that the world is a safe place where no harm will fall upon them.
Here are some examples of psychological projection:
1. Feeling others hate or dislike you
If you have a strong dislike or hatred for someone it is quite common to protect yourself from these feelings by projecting them onto another person. According to Jung, “The subject gets rid of painful, incompatible content by projecting them.” For example, you may feel your boss or a co-worker hates you. Upon reflection, you may find that in actuality the hate originates in you. Unable to cope with this, you instead project the hateful feelings toward your boss or coworker and make them into the villain.
2. Commenting negatively on others physical appearance
When a person makes disparaging comments about another person’s appearance this may be a way to mask their own negative feelings about their body. For example, commenting with disgust about someone being overweight may actually be the way you feel about your own weight.
3. If I can do it so can you!
Although at first, this appears to be a positive projection, the belief that if you can complete a task others should be able to as well, can often lead to frustration and alienation from others. For example, a parent that worked two jobs and attended college full time may have a hard time believing their child can’t graduate with honors when attending college and not having to work.
4. Repulsion about other’s sexual orientation
A self-professed heterosexual male who goes out of their way to gay bash and direct hateful rhetoric towards homosexuals may be doing so because of self-hate towards their repressed homosexuality. Unable to accept this part of themselves, they will project the hate onto individuals who are openly gay. There are numerous cases of men who have attacked homosexuals verbally or physically only to later reveal they are gay themselves.
5. Believing your partner is unfaithful
Thoughts of infidelity that a person may be having may be unconsciously projected onto their romantic partner. The guilt over these thoughts turns into blame directed at the innocent party. This may not always be the case so please be careful not to attack your partner if they are expressing an insecurity about fidelity.
6. Bullying Behavior
Often times underneath a bully’s aggressive tough exterior there is an insecure and vulnerable individual. Unable to accept their feelings of weakness they lash out at others they perceive as vulnerable. The hate they feel towards their own vulnerability is projected onto an innocent party.
We all use psychological projection on a daily basis. By identifying what we are perceiving as bad or negative we can begin to understand what we may be unconsciously trying to suppress within ourselves. Carl Jung stated that “When one tries desperately to be good, wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.” Identify what you are projecting by looking at your “hates” and “dislikes.” What do you naturally feel strongly about? What you dislike and hate in others says a lot of what you dislike or hate in yourself. By becoming more aware of one’s internal negative script you can learn to accept that part of yourself that causes you the most discomfort. By unifying the good and self-professed bad parts of yourself through self-acceptance and self-love you can become more empathetic towards others. By being your whole authentic self you will be less divisive because you are no longer divided into two conflicting parts.
I hope you found this article informative and thought-provoking. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you or someone you know may be psychologically projecting onto others. This article is meant for educational purposes only.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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